Racing cars

Are hydrogen racing cars the key to the future of clean mobility?

Could a hydrogen-based racing series do the same for FCEVs that Formula E does for EVs? By Steve McEvoy

Auto racing has always pushed the boundaries of what is technologically possible and has often been instrumental in changing the mainstream car market. Take the example of significant developments in speed, performance, endurance and safety: once innovations are proven in the racing industry, they can be replicated in the mainstream space to create more comfortable and more efficient vehicles. Today, with climate change and net zero goals from governments, all parts of the auto industry are under significant pressure to adopt carbon-free technologies, including more sustainable ways of fueling vehicles.

Sustainable fuels are an integral part of the future of mobility and the industry is beginning to seek out new sources of clean energy. According to the Expleo report “The road of hydrogen cars”, 84% of automotive leaders believe that hydrogen-powered vehicles can help reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. UK industry is aware that hydrogen is crucial to achieving sustainability goals, but remains cautious about the commitment to technology, where innovation in motorsport can help.

Key innovations in the motorsport industry

There are many examples of how motorsport has paved the way for the development of sustainable fuel technology. In recent years, the focus has been on electric vehicles (EVs). Take the example of the Formula E championships: originally a platform for the development of electric vehicle technology and sustainable mobility, it has become the first sport with a net zero carbon footprint. Braking regeneration is another example: While the technology was originally developed by the racing industry, it is now used in electric vehicles, bicycles, and even skateboards.

Auto racing has always pushed the boundaries of what is technologically possible and has often been instrumental in changing the market for consumer cars.

However, one of the main concerns with electric vehicles is battery life. Electric vehicles rely on a battery to operate, which can create limitations, starting with range and charging time. Although advances in battery technology are significant and some OEMs are developing solutions for electric trucks, they are not there yet. Additionally, poor EV charging infrastructure can discourage buyers, resulting in expensive vehicles more suited to city life, where charging stations are more common.

This is one of the reasons the industry is looking for other ways to power vehicles, and hydrogen is one of the most promising. British auto executives are optimistic about the future of hydrogen, with 63% believing the first consumption options will be on the road within two years. While hydrogen-powered vehicles are not yet as popular as EVs, they have already moved on to consumers of racing innovation – Hyundai’s ix35 fuel cell and Toyota Mirai are recent examples – and will continue to do so. To do.

The advantages of hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen has the potential to be the next fuel source to cross and be widely adopted in the consumer market, especially since it has been proven that ‘it can be done’ from a point of view. technological view. As mentioned above, hydrogen has already been successfully applied in motorsports and in consumer vehicles. To understand the full potential of hydrogen fuel cells, Expleo teamed up with engineers from Faster and got involved in the Dakar Rally project to collaborate on the design of a sports 4 × 4 powered exclusively by the hydrogen. The vehicle is being developed in accordance with the rally-raid’s new energy transition plan, DakarFuture. The Dakar being much more of a sporting race than a technological one, it is remarkable to see innovation and progress directly contributing to the future of mobility, with a much lower impact on the environment.

Since January 2021, Expleo has been working on the design of the vehicle in close collaboration with Faster who brought their expertise in motor racing. The idea of ​​a hydrogen vehicle was born several years ago at Faster, before Expleo was asked for its expertise in hydrogen mobility. The first prototype will be presented early next year, before finalizing the technical and technological details of the final race-ready vehicle.

84% of automotive leaders believe hydrogen vehicles can help reduce industry carbon emissions

Unlike fossil fuels, there are no emissions with fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) because the energy is produced by a chemical reaction which makes it one of the cleanest options available. Compared to EVs, it has range and confidence advantages, as FCEVs can be refueled quickly, within minutes, while the range limitation combined with charge times make EVs a less convenient option. .

While hydrogen has long been viewed as the perfect “clean” solution due to its zero emissions, obtaining and storing it presents complex challenges that the industry has yet to overcome. Before technology moves to the mass market, infrastructure will require increased investment. The recent UK budget outlined upcoming investments in hydrogen as part of the government’s hydrogen strategy, which will help transform this new source of energy into a practical and scalable application, to the both for the racing industry and mainstream cars.

Investment in infrastructure is crucial

Expleo believes that hydrogen fuel cells are a key path for the future of the automotive market, as long as the industry taps into technical expertise and makes the technology more affordable in the short term. The good news is that we are already seeing progress in the right direction. “The road of hydrogen cars” shows that over 71% of automotive executives believe their company has the know-how to design affordable hydrogen solutions, but there are many barriers to adoption. Despite this, concerns remain about green hydrogen infrastructure and production, as well as engineering safety and future access to gas stations. These are due to limited access to R&D and infrastructure.

Mission H24 LMPH2G
The LMPH2G is the first electric-hydrogen endurance racing prototype

Currently there are only 11 hydrogen charging stations in the UK compared to the thousands of EV charging points, so there is not the right infrastructure support. The development of infrastructure will require collaboration between several industries, especially the oil, gas and chemical industries, as the storage of hydrogen will have to be taken into account. Without significant investment in hydrogen storage and transportation infrastructure, as well as in the production of green hydrogen itself, manufacturers will continue to have problems, resulting in limited R&D and production of low-cost cars. hydrogen, leaving the UK market behind its European counterparts in the clean car race. direction.

Will racing technology be able to guide the way?

Similar to electric vehicles, racing technology will make hydrogen more visible and attractive, showcasing its potential while educating consumers about how safe it is. For example, a hydrogen-based formula could do the same for FCEVs as Formula E does for EVs. And some early adopters are already leading the charge: Hyundai plans to become a major player in hydrogen energy, working to launch a new FCEV in the mainstream space in 2023.

Whether off-road or Formula 1, racing technology could advance the development of hydrogen fuel cells faster than an OEM working only on consumer vehicles. Racing means continuous testing and stringent safety requirements, which leads to performance gains. This will be what propels hydrogen as a viable alternative fuel. The next frontier will be addressing the infrastructure challenges in industry and helping consumers understand how they can benefit from hydrogen cars, both from a performance and climate perspective.

About the Author: Steve McEvoy is Vice President of Automotive at Expleo

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